On June 10, 2005, mentally ill inmates filed a class action lawsuit in the Fifth Circuit Court of South Carolina, a state trial court, against the South Carolina Department of Corrections. The suit alleged that the defendant violated the South Carolina Constitution's ban on "cruel," "corporal" and "unusual punishment" as well as its duty to provide basic care for prisoners (a claim that was eventually dropped). The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief.
Specifically plaintiffs alleged that the defendant failed to properly treat plaintiffs' mental illnesses by refusing to transfer them to facilities equipped to treat them, only sporadically giving them needed antipsychotic medication (which leads the patients to horde the medication increase the risk of suicide and overdoses), and by excessively using solitary confinement which interferes with the treatment of their mental illness.
On November 1, 2007, the Circuit Court (Judge J. Michael Baxley), among other things, certified the case as a class action with the class consisting of as any mentally ill person who was incarcerated by the defendant since June 20, 2005.
On September 29, 2010, the Circuit Court (Judge Baxley) ruled on the standards that would govern the case. The Court ruled that the standards of Article I Section 12 of the South Carolina Constitution would be construed consistently with the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (which prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments"). The Court held plaintiffs must prove that there is a substantial risk of serious harm and the objective nature of that risk may be proved by deficiencies in the system of administration of the Department of Corrections. To determine if the defendant's system is insufficient the Court will consider the six factors laid following federal case law:
1. a systematic program for screening and evaluating inmates to
identify those in need of mental health care;
2. a treatment program that involves more than segregation and
close supervision of mentally ill inmates;
3. employment of a sufficient number of trained mental health
4. maintenance of accurate, complete, and confidential mental
health treatment records;
5. administration of psychotropic medication only with
appropriate supervision and periodic evaluation; and
6. a basic program to identify, treat, and supervise inmates at risk
The Court also found that the plaintiff's Article XII claims were not legitimate as the legislature was not a party to the action.
On January 8, 2014, the Circuit Court (Judge Baxley) ruled in favor of the plaintiff class, finding that the defendant acted with "deliberate" and knowing indifference towards the mentally ill in the Department of Corrections. Specifically, the Court found that:  the mental health care services were "severely" understaffed and many are unqualified resulting in inadequate screening and delays in care,  mentally ill inmates were exposed to disproportionate use of force and segregation without approval by psychiatrists through the use of solitary confinement that has caused the death of several inmates,  the defendant's does not have a complete process for tracking the treatment of mental ill inmates,  the defendant's mental health screening process does not identify all of the mentally ill inmates nor get those who are identified timely treatment,  the defendant's administration of psychotropic drugs is inadequately administered and evaluated, and  the defendant's crisis prevention system is inadequate and has resulted in the suicide of several mentally ill inmates. The Circuit Court ordered that the defendant create a plan for better administering the care of mentally ill prisoners based on the problems the court identified above. The court would have the power to approve or disapprove the plan. Once a plan was approved, the court would appoint a monitor to ensure the new plan was followed.
Over the next few months, the parties began negotiations on an improvement plan. In July of 2014, the defendants opened the Self-Injurious Behavioral Unit at the Kirkland Correctional Institution in Columbia. The unit was designed to facilitate faster responses to inmates who feel the need to harm themselves.
On January 15, 2015, following months of mediation, the parties announced that they had agreed to terms for a preliminary remedial plan. Specifically, the plan would phase in $8.2 million in funding over three years (pending legislative approval); calls for "significant" modifications to defendants' security policies and procedures; and requires the development of an improved staff training curriculum and a more appropriate staff culture. According to plaintiffs' counsel, the parties were aiming to reach full agreement on a plan and the revised policies by July 31, 2015.Brian Kempfer - 02/14/2014
Dan Whitman - 04/04/2015